2001 Annual Report to the Governor
Massachusetts Commission For The Blind
We, the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind Rehabilitation Council, are pleased to submit this report to the Honorable Jane Swift, Governor, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, for federal fiscal year 2001, as required by the Rehabilitation Act, as amended.
The Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) is a state agency established to provide legally blind people with the training and support needed to live independent and productive lives within the economic, social, and civic spheres of the Commonwealth. Approximately 35,000 residents are legally blind. The MCB Rehabilitation Council (RC) is a citizen body composed of community leaders who advise MCB on the conduct of its mission relative to the rehabilitation of persons who are legally blind.
Membership Voting Members
Robert Baran, consumer Region I, Chicopee
Louise Beach, consumer Minority Communities, Roxbury
Brian Charlson, consumer Bay State Council of the Blind, Watertown
Gerard Coletta, advocate Region IV, Arlington
Gina Colonna, consumer Project Outlook, Somerville
Tim Cumings, consumer Visually Impaired and Blind User Group, Brighton
Priscilla Ferris, consumer National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, Somerset
Robert Hachey, consumer MCB VR Consumer, Waltham
Patricia Hill, consumer Region III, Malden
Denise Karuth, consumer Statewide Independent Living Council, Florence
Barbara Lybarger, Director Client Assistance Program Massachusetts Office on Disability, Boston
Stephen Matthews, consumer Region VI, Revere
Annette McGlinchey, advocate Parent of Adult Who is Blind and has Multiple Disabilities, Revere
Kim McLaughlin, Deputy Director State Workforce Investment Board, Boston
Joy Reis, consumer Region V, Fall River
Carl Richardson, consumer Deaf-Blind Concerns, Brighton
Marta Rodriguez, consumer Minority Communities, Boston
Rachel Rosenbaum, provider The Carroll Center for the Blind, Newton
Sue Christensen, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, Boston
David P. Govostes, Commissioner Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, Boston
Supporting Staff and other Interested Parties
Sheilah Carroll, Region I on MCB Central Advisory Council Indian Orchard
Jan Doremus, RC Staff Assistant Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, Boston
Mary Feigenbaum, Region VI on MCB Central Advisory Council Brookline
Patricia Hart, consultant Program Manager, Policy Development Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, Boston
George McDermott, Region II on MCB Central Advisory Council Worcester
Meg Robertson, Supervisor, Orientation and Mobility Unit Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, Boston
1. The RC made a few changes in how it conducts business:
While the RC continues to have several standing committees (Education Committee; Employment Committee; RC Composition Committee; Socialization Committee; and Transportation/Mobility Committee), the RC was restructured to switch the emphasis from committees to operate under short-term issue-specific task forces as its primary means of conducting business between meetings. The task forces are: Task Force on Deaf-Blind Services, chaired by Carl Richardson, who represents Deaf-Blind Concerns on the RC; Task Force on Independent Living Center Services to the Blind and Visually Impaired, chaired by Denise Karuth, who represents the Statewide Independent Living Council on the RC; Task Force on MCB Location, chaired by Stephen Matthews, who represents Region VI on the RC; and Task Force on Web Site and Document Access, chaired by Robert Hachey, who represents MCB VR Consumers on the RC.
In a continuing effort to focus the RC on time-sensitive issues, the RC Chair submits a short series of questions and/or topics in advance of each meeting. The Commissioner responds to them during his report to the RC.
2. The RC has regularly scheduled meetings quarterly on Saturday from 12:15 P.M. to 2:45 P.M. A light lunch is served before each meeting.
3. The meeting agenda was amended to include Committee Reports, Task Force Reports, and a Legislative Report. If a member of the RC knows of an issue associated with their particular constituency, whether it is regional or subject matter, the RC is the appropriate place to raise those concerns. RC members have the opportunity to add those topics to the meeting agenda. At each meeting, RC members can amend the agenda before accepting it. Committee and task force meetings can be held before or after general RC meetings. Since the RC adopted this new format, very few committee meetings have been held. The smaller task forces conduct the majority of their business by telephone and e-mail between meetings. Before meetings, appropriate policies and regulations are sent to the RC in accessible formats.
4. The RC has been searching for additional members to represent Region II and members of the business community.
5. Louise Beach succeeded Marta Rodriguez as the representative of Minority Communities on the RC. Kim McLaughlin joined the RC as the representative of the State Workforce Investment Board.
Prior to the last RC meeting in federal fiscal year 2001, the RC Composition Committee met to review several issues concerning the composition of the RC. We have had an ongoing problem getting representatives from business, industry, and labor to serve as members. The RC needs to find a way to get them to the table to educate them and for them to educate the RC. One way might be for the RC to alternate meetings between Saturdays and a work day. This committee asked the RC Staff Assistant to write a survey to send to the RC to determine under what circumstances members would be available to attend meetings during the work day. Based on survey results, this committee will make recommendations to the RC on modifying the schedule of meetings.
A member of the RC can serve two three-year terms. For the first time, the RC is approaching a situation where three members are not eligible for reappointment because they have served their maximum number of terms. The RC Composition Committee established a process by which it will make recommendations to the RC on successors for those individuals.
6. The RC has developed and submitted to the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind a resource plan which continues resources for transportation, interpreters, accessible materials, and staff assistance.
7. The members of the RC have participated in both the public hearing process and the public comment process required to develop and amend the State Plan for Vocational Rehabilitation and Supported Employment Services, and have also made comments and recommendations relative to the State Plan at the RC meetings. Efforts are ongoing to monitor the implementation of this Plan by the RC. We remain involved in consumer satisfaction studies, surveys, and focus groups.
8. The following persons made presentations to the members of the RC as guest speakers:
Tim Cumings, Chair, Elder Blind Committee
Sandra Daly, Director, Children's Services, MCB
Mike Dziokonski, Director, Vocational Rehabilitation Program, MCB
Patricia Hart, Program Manager, Policy Development, MCB
Patricia Hill, Chair, Technology Policy Advisory Committee
David Hoff, Lead Training Associate, Institute for Community Inclusion
Denise Karuth, Chair, Task Force on Independent Living Center Services to the Blind and Visually Impaired, and Immediate Past Chair, Statewide Independent Living Council
Donna Wright, Research Analyst, MCB.
Issues, Problems, and Achievements
At the time of the final meeting of the RC in federal fiscal year 2001, the state had yet to adopt its budget. No significant increases in state support of MCB functions were anticipated.
Some RC representatives testified before the Massachusetts Legislature in support of MCB vocational rehabilitation and other programs. In addition, RC representatives participated in the Disability Policy Consortium, a group of advocates with disabilities from across the state, and educated legislators and state human service agency officials on disability-related issues.
The Task Force on MCB Location was created during the March 2001 meeting of the RC. The task force consists of Brian Charlson; Denise Karuth; and Stephen Matthews, Chair, who represents Region VI on the RC. The purposes of this task force were:
- A. to look at two possible locations for MCB's Central Office;
- B. to visit each site to determine its exact location;
- C. to walk around each area to find out how to reach it; and
D. to endorse and submit the RC's written recommendation on any or all of the sites from the perspective of the consumer to the Commissioner.
The sites under consideration were 350 Washington Street and 40 Court Street. Both locations are in downtown Boston and are near public transportation.
On behalf of the RC, the task force recommended that MCB's Central Office remain at 88 Kingston Street, Boston. If MCB's Central Office could not stay at its current location, the task force recommended that 40 Court Street was the better alternative because it is close to stations on all four mainline rapid transit lines; no stairs lead into the building; and it has easy access to the elevators.
The site at 350 Washington Street had these drawbacks: no traffic light at the intersection; the lack of curb cuts in the vicinity; and very heavy pedestrian traffic in this area.
Denise Karuth, a blind wheelchair user and Co-Director of Boston Self Help, educated the RC about the history of the independent living movement. She explained what services MCB's independent living center provided and why it closed. Several independent living centers in this state have some programs targeted for people who are legally blind. Five centers hired visually impaired staff.
The RC discussed conflicts between the independent living community and the blindness community, including:
- the one size fits all approach to persons with disabilities;
- independent mobility means something different for persons with mobility impairments versus those with visual impairments;
- there was a system for addressing the uniqueness of each group, but now the independent living movement uses that uniqueness to explain why they cannot provide the service;
- the blindness community has no statistics to review what independent living centers provide to show whether or not they provide service to blind people of an equal nature to those that they provide to people who are not blind;
- the independent living model is geared toward preventing institutionalization and facilitating community integration, a somewhat different set of issues than that of many blind people;
- most blind people do not have the personal assistance issues of many people with physical disabilities; and
- some blind people believe that independent living centers do not serve blind people and that blind people lost $250,000 in MCB's independent living center, but independent living centers believe that they need money from MCB.
Another core conflict in the process is issues concerning the description of personal assistance services. Traditionally it has been taking care of the needs of a physically disabled person; although that has been changing regarding the needs of those with mental disabilities, the same transition did not happen in terms of broadening the definition to include the personal care help that a blind person might need, such as reader services.
The RC focused on the issues of blindness and the relationship with MCB. Another issue is that generally blind people believe that they go to MCB as the single point of entry into the system and that people with all other disabilities go to the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission or independent living centers. Another problem is that generally when a blind person goes to an independent living center, the service that they are going to provide is a referral to MCB. Another problem is that independent living centers have sent numerous blind people to MCB for help with housing issues and advocacy issues on Social Security cases. Basic information and referral about other services were not available to them.
This presentation gave the RC a much better understanding of the motivations and background of independent living. At the March 2001 meeting, the RC created the Task Force on Independent Living Center Services to the Blind and Visually Impaired. Its mandate is to research what kind and level of services are currently provided for legally blind people by independent living centers in Massachusetts. The task force includes Robert Hachey; Patricia Hill; and Denise Karuth, Chair, who represents the Statewide Independent Living Council on the RC.
The task force has researched the history of independent living services for persons who are blind or blind with additional disabilities. This task force has discovered that it is appropriate, in some cases, for independent living centers to refer persons who are blind or blind with additional disabilities to MCB, as when they make the initial request for Part B Services (home adaptations, assistive technology, etc.).
MCB receives $56,500 in Title VII Part B dollars. $19,000 of these funds is spent as MCB's contribution toward the operating expenses of the Statewide Independent Living Council, the federally-mandated board that oversees the work of the state's eleven independent living centers.
The task force will survey independent living centers regarding the services they provide to persons who are blind or blind with additional disabilities. The goals are:
- that independent living centers provide clear consistent information and services across the state to persons who are blind or blind with additional disabilities;
- to foster better relations between the blind and independent living communities; and
- to explore the possibility of expanding services provided to persons who are blind or blind with additional disabilities through independent living centers.
The task force agreed to send a representative to the Second Annual Statewide Independent Living Conference, which was held on June 28-29, 2001. Denise Karuth attended this conference and had lengthy discussions with representatives from several independent living centers about the services they provide to persons who are blind or blind with additional disabilities.
The RC discussed access to technology in this state. The Task Force on Web Site and Document Access was created during the June 2001 meeting of the RC. The task force is composed of Robert Baran; Brian Charlson; Patricia Hill; Denise Karuth; and Robert Hachey, Chair, who represents MCB VR Consumers on the RC. The purposes of this task force are:
- A. to examine state government web sites and evaluate their level of accessibility for legally blind persons; and
- B. to make recommendations for improving access to state web sites and documents.
As of this writing, the task force has researched problem areas in access to state web sites. The task force has identified problems with the state procurement system. Specifically, this system is using the Portable Document Format (PDF). This format limits access for screen readers used by blind persons. The more heavily formatted the document, the more difficult it is to access. Although state guidelines specify that PDF files should not be used, PDF is also being used for documents from various state entities, including the Massachusetts Department of Education, Massachusetts Architectural Access Board, Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, the Budget Conference Committee of the Legislature, and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. Consequently, RC members and blind consumers cannot access the state procurement system and this material. The task force has also noted that contractors with the state have had problems with document access.
The RC asked MCB what happened to the material that was on MCB's Bulletin Board System. The RC believed that MCB committed to moving much of that material, including employment resources, resources on vendors of technology, many useful resources, many useful items on blindness topics and how to get information, to the MCB web site. The RC requested an update on the status and future of the MCB web site. The RC recommended that the Task Force on Web Site and Document Access contact appropriate MCB staff who deal with the MCB web site to find out what things were transferred, what things were not transferred, and an explanation of why the latter things were not transferred.
Patricia Hill, Chair of the Technology Policy Advisory Committee, attended MCB's Technology Advisory Committee meeting at which braille devices were discussed. The MCB Technology Program staff reported that braille devices are not reserved only for deaf-blind consumers. In a few cases, individuals who did not know braille were told that when they learned braille skills, MCB Technology Program staff would reassess them. As a direct result of the RC's involvement, MCB distributed to all staff a policy clarification relative to braille technology.
This task force has tried unsuccessfully to contact the state's Unit Director of the Internet Services Group. This task force will continue its research and increase efforts to work with state officials in order to gain equal access to web sites and documents.
Donna Wright, Patricia Hart, and Gerard Coletta, Chair of the Survey Review Committee, worked on MCB's comprehensive needs assessment survey. They wrote two surveys, one for consumers and one for MCB vocational rehabilitation staff. The RC reviewed the draft Consumer Needs Survey and made recommendations to help formulate survey questions.
Tim Cumings, Chair of the Elder Blind Committee, reviewed a report on funding for elder blind consumers, which presents the demographic composition of blind elders in Massachusetts by region. There were 26,232 blind elders aged 55 and older. A total of $693,000 was requested for the Social Services Program for: six more social workers, one per region, to serve about 500 blind elders in independent living skills; to purchase services and adaptive equipment for blind elders; and a program that will provide computers, training, and adaptive engineering services to 50 blind elders during the first year. Although state legislation was introduced, it had not passed at the time of the writing of this report, though increases did occur on the federal level.
David Hoff educated the RC about the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act, focusing on the Ticket to Work Program. He reviewed where it stood in Massachusetts, one of 13 states that were chosen for the pilot phase. He explained how the Ticket to Work Program is supposed to work for individual agencies. He identified significant issues concerning how the reimbursement mechanism will function and problems concerning paperwork and requirements for reporting how many people are placed by employment networks.
To enable consumers to make informed choices, the RC believes that it is very important for information on the program and the quality of services provided by various entities to be provided to consumers in accessible formats. The RC believes that the major issue MCB will encounter is that when MCB consumers receive a ticket in the mail, they will call MCB for an explanation of what the ticket means to them. MCB has to be prepared to be honest with consumers about their options because of the indefinite nature of the situation as of March 2001.
The RC learned about the background of the Rehabilitation Services Administration's proposed rule that placing a legally blind person in a sheltered workshop setting, such as Ferguson Industries for the Blind, would no longer qualify as competitive employment. The RC also learned about this proposed rule's impact on MCB. The RC discussed objections to it.
The RC requested that the Commissioner explain how MCB educates the State Legislature on issues that are either directly related to MCB, such as the budget, or activities that are indirectly related to MCB, such as issues associated with laws to protect guide dog users, accessible voting, and those kinds of issues that are not directly related to rehabilitation. The RC requested a quarterly executive summary on the status of legislation of interest to blind people and MCB's position on it. The Commissioner agreed to have his Legislative Liaison compile a regular report, including MCB's involvement in those bills, for the RC. These reports will keep the RC well informed about legislation so the RC can understand MCB's position on specific bills. This information enables the RC to support MCB by contacting State Legislators to address those kinds of issues.
To enhance the RC's ability to carry out its core funtion of advising MCB specifically on issues related to vocational rehabilitation, Mike Dziokonski, Director of the MCB Vocational Rehabilitation Program, presented an overview of MCB's Vocational Rehabilitation Program. RC members asked many questions. They discussed the problem that students do not always receive the College Training Services Regulations from MCB. As a result, the Commissioner agreed to send a memorandum to counselors reminding them to provide students with these regulations in accessible formats.
MCB modified its technology policy to be able to provide computers to students who are moving in the direction of going on to college. Instead of graduating from high school before getting access technology from MCB and having to learn its use during three months before going to college, students can qualify for it before graduating from high school so they can be competent at its use as they transition.
The RC discussed why MCB does not have an order of selection. The advantages and disadvantages of order of selection were noted.
Mike Dziokonski explained why MCB provides certain services by MCB staff and provides other services through contracts, such as those with Vision Community Services and The Carroll Center for the Blind. The RC requested information on how much of the vocational rehabilitation funds are spent to support services provided in-house directly by MCB versus by contract.
Sandra Daly, Director of MCB Children's Services, presented an overview of MCB Children's Services. RC members asked her many questions, including why there has been a dramatic influx of relatively high-functioning braille-reading students into Perkins School for the Blind from public schools during the past three years; whether the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System has had an effect on that; how often a 14-year-old youth works on pre-vocational activities with an MCB counselor; and how a youth transitions from an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) to and including the Individualized Plan for Employment.
Sandra Daly also informed the RC about the issue of preschoolers' failure to thrive. She explained why many severely visually impaired or totally blind babies and toddlers have classic failure to thrive. In the global sense, failure to thrive means children may not have age-appropriate developmentally-appropriate toys from which to learn; it could mean not having access to experiences that aid and enrich development. She reported on how flexible family support money could enable MCB to be more effective in assisting families with classic and global failure to thrive.
The RC knows that for many years there has been an ongoing disagreement about where special education failed that requires that rehabilitation do their work. The RC is concerned about addressing this long-standing problem. The RC has seen conflict between mainstreaming and the school for the blind scenario every time a student transfers from one to the other. The RC asked what MCB can do to ensure that this is no longer an issue in Massachusetts and what the RC can do to resolve this problem.
An RC member reported that there is not enough parent involvement in the IEP process for a disabled student. The RC asked how MCB contacts parents to obtain their input as to what their child needs. The RC can have some impact by educating parents about what their child needs in order to compete at a reasonable level as an adult as well as about the process of IEP's, mediation, parents' role in the process, how to advocate for their child, etc. The RC recommended that MCB hold a seminar for parents where these issues will be addressed. The RC discussed having the two consumer organizations, the Bay State Council of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, assist financially by sponsoring the day care needs for this proposed seminar for parents of children who are legally blind. The RC's goal is to be of as much assistance as possible because we believe that what MCB Children's Services does is vital to future generations.
After the RC reviewed a document that described the Vending Facilities Program, Mike Dziokonski presented an overview of MCB's Vending Facilities Program. RC members asked many questions, including how vendors are trained; how equipment is repaired; how many people are employed as vendors through this program; how the size and financial health of the program look now compared to five years ago; where MCB is considering locating new stands; whether any vendors run more than one stand; whether MCB has vending machines in rest stop areas on state highways; and what keeps Mcb's Vending Facilities Program from growing.
The RC requested additional information on the involvement of minority vendors as well as a listing of vendors from highest paid to lowest paid and the ratio between those who function with vision and those who function without any vision. In the same way that the RC is interested in the issues of whether a vendor is a minority, we are interested in whether there is any monitoring to ensure that the level of a vendor's visual disability is not a factor in who does and does not succeed.
The RC believes that the MCB Vending Facilities Program is an effective program. It meets the employment needs of 47 consumers.
Without hearing aids, many legally blind people who have hearing impairments would not be able to function at their current level on their jobs. A person who is hard of hearing and legally blind needs extra services in order to function at their level. The RC is concerned that deaf-blind consumers who are not in the MCB Deaf-Blind/Multi-Handicapped Unit are not getting those services. As a result, MCB drafted a policy memorandum on services to legally blind consumers who have hearing impairments, which the RC reviewed.
On the recommendation of the RC, the Commissioner agreed to emphasize three principles at an upcoming vocational rehabilitation training seminar:
- if a consumer is legally blind and hearing impaired, and is provided services by a vocational rehabilitation counselor or social worker in a region, those staff should address all of that person's needs;
- MCB has criteria about which hearing impaired persons are to be served by the MCB Deaf-Blind/Multi-Handicapped Unit, and that it is important that when staff have a consumer who has a hearing disability in addition to their visual disability, whether or not they are being served by the MCB Deaf-Blind/Multi-Handicapped Unit, the full range of vocational rehabilitation services is provided; and
- a consumer's age does not make them ineligible for vocational rehabilitation.
MCB held a training seminar for its vocational rehabilitation staff. MCB emphasized the Vocational Rehabilitation Program. MCB wants to identify more consumers who could be eligible for the Vocational Rehabilitation Program. The RC is pleased that MCB found the time and resources to educate its personnel.
The RC Chair requested that MCB's six regional directors inform him when their Regional Advisory Councils will meet. He would like to visit them to see how those meetings are going. The RC may be able to learn how better to conduct its business from what is happening in the regions. He would like the people in the regions to know that the RC cares and is listening so the RC can receive more communication from them.
Plans for Federal Fiscal Year 2002
The RC will continue to monitor and work on some of the issues which are still ongoing from 2001, i.e., braille literacy; facilitation of transportation for people in need of transportation either to look for work or go to work; and accessibility to computer graphical user interfaces, particularly to web sites and public documents. The optimization of governmental resources to benefit the employment interests of legally blind persons and, in particular, the enhancement of vocational rehabilitation services of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind continues to be the primary function of the RC.
The RC will work with both the Massachusetts State Government and the Federal Government to ensure that they provide material, including voting information in and out of the polling booth, to legally blind people in accessible formats.
The RC has the following goals for federal fiscal year 2002:
- to amend Chapter 99, the governing document of the RC, so as to allow effective participation of business, industry and labor leaders in the deliberations of the RC and to ensure that Chapter 99 conforms with Section 105 of the reauthorized Rehabilitation Act;
- to amend the standard agenda to allow for more "recommendations" from the RC to the agency on topics covered during each meeting; and
- to have committees and task forces engage in activities in their respective areas of concern between meetings of the full RC and provide written reports on those activities.
The RC has appreciated the opportunity to make a difference to legally blind citizens of the Commonwealth.
This information is provided by the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.